How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Overwhelm and Reclaim Your Life


Last week, I wrote about six ways that being busy can ruin your life. Among other things, I talked about how being busy isn't the same as being productive, how it encourages us to seek external validation, and, most importantly, how it doesn't make us happy. So what to do if you're attached to busy and want to reclaim your life?

This week I want to throw out a few antidotes for all the busy-holics out there. As a recovering busy obsessive myself, these are things that I've tried and tested (extensively) and I hope they're helpful to you too.

1. Explore your beliefs

Explore what "busy" really means to you. What needs are you trying to meet? What feelings or experiences are you trying to create? Common reasons we buy into the social glorification of busy include wanting to feel worthy, important, valued, and like we're making a meaningful contribution to the world.

Know that these are all very human things to want to feel. We're conditioned to believe that busy work will bring us closer to these experiences, but it doesn't.

We might also be seeking avoidance; perhaps there's something in our lives or ourselves we'd rather not face up to. It's much easier to overbook your schedule than it is to have time to reflect on a relationship that's not working out or that creeping feeling you're in the wrong career.

Give yourself permission to be honest. Explore the areas of your life where you might be a little lacking in the needs, feelings, or experiences that are important to you, and compensating through being busy. Show yourself compassion for the things that you'd rather avoid thinking right now.

Knowledge is power, and once we're aware of why we're falling into the busy trap in the first place, we're in a much better position to avoid it in the future.

2. Ignore the naysayers

Many of the people around us have bought into the glorification of busy, and they won't find it easy to see you challenging that paradigm. As I wrote last week:

Just because something is convention doesn't mean it's right.

Wherever you are in life, you want people around you who will support and encourage your growth. If you find yourself feeling pressured by other people to stay on the hamster wheel, it's OK to distance yourself from that pressure (and even the people) while you figure out what you want and need in your life.

3. Remember that it's not about you

I'm a big believer in the idea that the most meaningful projects are those that allow us to use our skills to have a positive impact on other people's lives. That kind of work is fulfilling and, at times, takes us way outside our comfort zones. When resistance kicks in, it's easy to fill our days with "stuff" (ahem, Facebook) to avoid doing the things that would promote our growth.

Part of the reason I recently put out a call for an intern is because I know where my skills lie: I'm much more helpful when I'm coaching people (something that I love and that has a tangible effect on other people's lives) than when I'm sitting in my bat cave doing behind-the-scenes stuff (something that I'm not particularly good at and that has no tangible effect on other people's lives).

Shifting the focus from myself to others has quadrupled my awareness around what counts as busywork, and what feels meaningful (and therefore more enjoyable). Take your ego out of the equation and focus on whether what you're doing is a reflection of how you can have the biggest positive impact on others. No? Ditch it or delegate it. Yes? Keep doing that.

4. Schedule unscheduled time (and stick to it)

As I've been interviewing lovely souls for From Coping to Thriving over the past few weeks, a theme that's come up repeatedly is the fact that a big part of self-care is about creating space.

Scheduling unscheduled time (and, most importantly, honouring that commitment to yourself) sets boundaries around your busy. When we talk about boundaries, we usually do so in relation to other people. But here's the truth:

The biggest challenge in setting boundaries is usually with ourselves.

If you're willing to give yourself permission to do whatever you want to do during your unscheduled time, it becomes a window of opportunity to experiment, re-connect with what really gets you out of bed in the morning, and to learn to just be.

5. Make space for your non-negotiables

Non-negotiables are daily activities that help us feel at our physical and emotional best. They might include things like getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, exercising, getting outside and experiencing nature, meditation, or a wide variety of other possibilities. The activities themselves aren't as important as how they make you feel.

Once you've identified what these activities are, they become one of your top priorities for the day. Other things might shift in your schedule to make room for additional commitments or deadlines, but not these babies. Non-negotiables are the foundation of your self-care and self-connection.

6. Embrace what you really enjoy

Here's my truth: I love intelligent, analytical movies and literary works of genius. I also love tongue-in-cheek crime drama and page-turner thrillers. For years, I denied myself these things, with the justification that I should be spending my leisure time on something more useful. But, you know what? I enjoy them, and that's what really counts.

There is no "right" antidote to busy. It's a personal decision, so do whatever encourages relaxation, enjoyment, and play in your world.

What are your suggestions to combat the glorification of busy? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.